Here’s my update for this project. Improved some shading, hatching, etc. I got 25 portraits now, 25 more.
This story is personal.
I was a Shaq fan. My earliest NBA memory was Shaq’s Magic versus MJ’s Bulls. When Shaq moved from Orlando to LA, I “moved” too. It was great. I also liked the Lakers. Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy… and the amazing franchise. And then there was Kobe Bryant.
The young Kobe Bryant was something. You gotta give him credit for his heart. His courage. A brave young man. But man, I hated him. There were times he was throwing airballs. There were times he wasn’t passing and making selfish decisions. I loved Eddie Jones. I loved Nick Van Exel. But Kobe wasn’t passing, he had to drive and dunk it on someone else because he had to be a legend NOW!
Jones, Van Exel, Campbell were traded, that was a bit sad. The Lakers had a rebuild. Finally they went to the finals and won three championships. Kobe was a lot better a player now. He was dunking on everyone’s head. He was tough. His energy went through the roof. Though I believed, Shaq was the key, you can not deny Kobe of his contribution—he killed it when Shaq was out. The young Kobe was ripe and dunked it hard when the need rose. And they won it in fashion, 3 shiny rings.
And then there were some issues and Shaq left for Miami. I was broken, I hated that LA “sided” with Kobe, Shaq had to leave. But I remained a Laker fan. Though I cheered Shaq for his success with DWade, I remained a Laker fan not cheering for Kobe.
Years came by, frustrations, losses and all, I started drifting away from NBA. I had almost forgotten my love for basketball, and focused on being an artist. Soon after, the rise of Kobe Bryant once again. He was still dunking on people. He’s back. He never lost his heart. I just couldn’t deny him. He was bleeding himself dry to win for my Lakers. His Lakers.
Kobe lost to the Celtics—and as a Laker, losing to Celtics is crazy big deal. Be it the finals or a regular season game, no, you don’t fall to the Celtics! But he did. Yet, this guy didn’t stop. He took Paul Pierce’s image as fuel to his inner fire.
Next year he was dunking again. His jumpers are sharper. You can see how he trained his body to finally cope up with his spirit. Kobe was taking his throne without Shaq. And he did! He won the finals and dunked on anyone in front of him—hi, Dwight. The next year he faced the Celtics again and got back what he lost. What a time to be a Laker fan!
Calmer time followed. Lebron James’s rise to power took the spotlight. Injuries followed. Kobe wasn’t the young number 8 anymore. He was the number 24 with torn achilles tendon. He made the free throws and walked away. The next seasons, he returned. He was different. He was throwing airballs again and the media had a circus. Criticized. To some he was disrespected. Kevin Durant didn’t like how the media treated him. Then KB announced his retirement—his last season—he said had nothing left to give.
His last season was a tour. But his LAST GAME against the rival Utah Jazz… man… was the best last game a legendary baller, or any athlete, could ever have—60 points and a W—in a jaw-dropping fashion. He left the court with a big smile. His body could have gotten older, but his spirit was as young as that rookie who dunked on people no matter what.
Until one morning, I woke up with the saddest news of the decade.
When Kobe died, I couldn’t take it. All of us, couldn’t believe it. But that’s just life, and maybe, that’s just what death is too. But Kobe Bryant, he and his winning shots, he and his devastating dunks, it would echo for the whole time he represented. He just wouldn’t let anyone outshine him on his watch. He just wouldn’t let anyone hold him down for long. His Mamba Mentality created a generation of winners. His life was truly a legendary story.
Shaquile O’Neal was the most dominant big man of his time. He was quick, strong and wise and those can be seen in his stats—points, rebounds, blocks. This portrait was the Orlando Magic Shaq—the young Shaq that despite his tremendous power, was still working his way up the steps of NBA greatness. A rookie with crazy potential. A young man destined for the Hall of Fame. He didn’t disappoint.
Great court vision. Fantastic facilitator. Sensational scoring machine. Penny will always be one of my greatest “what ifs” in NBA history. What if he had a healthy career? What if Shaq never left? What if Penny was never traded to Webber? What if fortune went his side? Nevertheless, Penny’s legacy will always be cherished by fans and players who looked up at him.
Bad-Ass Mr. Nice Guy
Grant Hill. He was sensational. Good handles. Scoring machine. Good defender. He was known as Mr. Nice Guy, yet as tough when it really counted. In the time of MJ’s absence, Grant Hill was seen as his successor—some in the media actually believed he could have been better than MJ. Tough statement to make.
Undeniably, his skills were high-caliber, but fate wasn’t nice enough. He was plagued by injuries and his chances of winning a ring went down every season. MJ went winning 3 more championships. Shaq and Kobe rose. Grant Hill kept on falling. It was tough. Yet, he kept on fighting. Now, Grant Hill is a hall of famer, still loved and respected by most NBA fans and players, his legend was untainted.
An art professor once told me that a portrait is not just some photograph or illustration of someone’s face. It should have the story or the character or memory that describes who the subject is. This, for me, is Michael Jordan. The hard teammate. The ultra-competitive. The proud monarch. The undefeated champion.
Truth be told, I was never a fan of MJ. I never collected his cards when I was young. I didn’t really root that much for his games, in fact I wanted my Lakers to defeat him. But my beloved ’90s era was the decade of his greatness, and it was harder not to be in awe of this certain genius.
This is the last Bulls portrait in my planned collection, and definitely one of my favorites.
Ron Harper was one of the herd that I liked—back in the 2nd Bulls’ era in the ’90s. Together of course with MJ, Pip, and Kukoc and Rodman—Harper was a very dependable role-player. But of course I was just too young to remember his details and I didn’t collect his Fleer and Topps back then. So I took a piece of Wikipedia about him:
“Harper signed a free agent deal with the Chicago Bulls, who were reloading following the first retirement of Michael Jordan. Harper found his niche with the Bulls upon Jordan’s return, eventually becoming a fan favorite by reinventing himself as a big perimeter defender, ball handler, and mid-range scorer.”
Yes. True that. And when the Bulls were over, He got to join the Lakers—my true team—and won 2 more rings. Lucky and great guy!
Right now, I’m just working with portraits and portraits and more portraits, but in the future I’ll do some court action for each of these guys (that I portrait). Be sure to here for it, guys!
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The Spider of Split
Toni Kukoc was known as the Spider of Split—that is Split—in Croatia. He had been one if not the most celebrated Croatian player of his time. He was a favorite Bull of mine back in their Championship years in the ’90s, that’s why I was fairly disappointed that The Last Dance (Netflix documentary) paid very less attention in him than he deserved.
A complete player: perimeter shots, 3-pointers, defense, passing skills and a very quick tall guy with a lot of tricks.
At this point I was getting pretty used to my hatching. Expect more coming!
Dennis Rodman was a wonder under the rim. He wasn’t known for scoring but what he’s known for was worth more—his defense and rebounds. Let MJ and Pip win the scoring battle, but trust The Worm to take care of the missed shots.
Here’s the ’90s Bulls’ Dennis ‘The Worm’ Rodman in black and white, my first entry in my NBA Portraits: The ’90s.